By BRIAN BEESLEY, inland360.com“Saturday Night Live” marked its 40th anniversary with a three-hour special Sunday. I had to work that night, but Monday I went online (courtesy of hulu.com) and watched a few of the show’s skits. They were various degrees of amusing, but they also welled up in me a handful of memories — not necessarily reminiscences of the show itself but centered around it.
I have watched SNL off and on since its inception in 1975. Back in the early days, it was a happening, a shared experience. For American teenagers of that era, the show was hip cultural currency, its catch phrases to be traded among ourselves like coins of the realm. As we got older and entered college, we watched the show together and laughed — or groaned — at its hit-or-miss comedy shooting gallery.
For the first four or five years of its run, it was — to appropriate a slogan from more recent times — must-see TV. If you missed it, you were SOL, and your coolness quotient (such as it was for most of us dweebs) took a huge hit.
I had my favorites: the Killer Bees (for obvious reasons); John Belushi’s “Samurai” riffs; nerds Lisa Loobner (Gilda Radner) and Todd DiLaMuca (Bill Murray); the Mr. Bill short films. Some of the more political sketches I didn’t really get, at least until later, but there was always something to elicit a chortle or two. Nowadays, when I’ve gone back to watch bits from the early years, I’m struck by how tame the humor was, at least compared to the raunchier offerings of today.
I wasn’t on board from the very beginning; it took me a couple of episodes to discover the show. One Monday in late October 1975, I ran into my friend Kelly at school and he asked me this question:
“So did you watch ‘Saturday Night’?”
“I don’t know, I think I watched a movie,” I said, confused.
“No, did you watch ‘Saturday Night’?” he asked again.
“Do you mean what did I watch Saturday night?”
“No, you dummy — ‘Saturday Night’! It’s a show!”
“That’s its name?” I replied. And it really was — no “Live” officially, just “Saturday Night.” Either way, I’d never heard of it.
So Kelly proceeded to rattle off all these crazy sketches he’d watched, including some drug-related sendup by a troop of Muppets, and it sounded like the funniest show ever. Funnier even than the departed “Laugh In,” which was its closest comedy progenitor. From that point on, it was required viewing, and every Monday at school, we’d compare notes and try to incorporate its zingers into our own little universe.
During the show’s second or third season, I can’t remember which, another friend of mine, Richard, was working as a dishwasher at the local Sizzler steakhouse. On Saturday nights, they would close the restaurant early and repair to the manager’s abode to watch the show. This, of course, included drinking beer. Richard was not yet 19 (the legal drinking age in Idaho at that time), but that didn’t prevent him from imbibing with the rest of his co-workers.
Anyway, this one night, they watched the show and Richard, more than a little drunk, headed for home on his bicycle. At some point, in the dark, he crashed into a parked car and tumbled to the street. He managed to shake it off, get back on his bike and ride the rest of the way home. Too drunk to worry about changing into his pajamas, he crawled into bed and passed out.
The next morning, his mom, apparently having found his damaged bike sprawled on the front lawn, looked in on him and, when she saw the caked blood all over his face and clothes, she started shrieking. This, of course, instantly roused Richard from his slumber and he sat up and yelled, “Woman, why are you screaming?” He ended up needing a few stitches to close his wounds. but was otherwise OK. We were always amazed at how he’d managed to pedal that thing home in the shape both it and he had been in.
Anyway, I watched the show into the 1980s, but by then it had lost some of its cache and I usually found something else to do with my Saturday nights (sleeping, for instance). But I would occasionally tune in if it looked like the host or the musical guest might reward the effort.
On Sunday, May 23, 1993, I got home from work around 12:30 a.m. and decided to catch the last half hour of “SNL” before calling it a night. I can’t now tell you who was the host, what any of the sketches were about or whether any of it was funny or not. This is because, about 10 minutes into my viewing, my overly pregnant wife Val (she was two weeks past her due date) toddled into the living room and announced that her water had broken and we were going to — finally — have our first child.
I immediately turned off the set and started helping time the contractions. Nine or so hours later, our daughter Caitlin had joined the family.
Of course, these recollections only have tangential links to the show. Even so, I’d still like to say, thanks for the memories, “SNL.” We don’t get together much any more, but you will always be a touchstone of my youth.
Beesley is 360’s production editor. He can be reached at (208) 848-8208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.